Alright, they did it to me.
As much as I've been preaching not to think about the playoffs until the Hawks reach the 9th spot in the Conference, I'm hooked. I'm doing the math just like you. If we all agree that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best sports has to offer, then I think we agree as well that watching 16 other teams battle for the Cup is about as depressing as it comes.
Having said that, I've also stated that it won't bother me if the Hawks don't make it so long as there's real progress. Only the most cynical would say there hasn't been. That is, unless you expected that Duncan Keith would blossom into an All-Star; Patrick Sharp would shatter a career high in goals; both Toews and Kane would establish themselves without any time in the minors or juniors; or several other pieces would show some signs of progress as well (see Dave Bolland).
So yes, there's definitely progress. But now that March is here, I'm greedy.
I have my doubts the Hawks are going to win the Cup, but playing into late April, at the very least, has to advance the progress I just talked about. Why make next year the year that the young kids get a "taste" of what playoff hockey is all about? Let's do it this year so that next time around it won't be about learning; it'll be about winning.
I'm not telling you anything you don't know. The problem is getting there.
For the sake of this argument -- and if you know any players from these teams, don't give them my email address! -- let's say Columbus, St. Louis, and even Phoenix are done. The Hawks will pass these teams. Why? As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have played a couple more games than the Hawks and that will come back to haunt them; the Blues' Manny Legace will wake up in March and remember he's just not that good; and Phoenix has four players -- Doan, Jovanovski, Bryzgalov... and Gretzky. Unfortunately, one can't dress. OK, Mueller is good, too.
So far you might think this is wishful thinking, but really, getting past and staying ahead of these teams is the easy part! Now comes Colorado and Nashville. They can be had. I still don't think the Preds are that good. One line has dominated and their D is decent, but how many times have the Hawks chased Ellis and Mason? It may only be a couple, but it feels like a lot more. Lack of depth and sub-par goaltending kills the Preds.
And now the Avs. Trying so desperately to 'get the band back together'. Desperation doesn't suit a team well this time of year. At least not in off-ice moves. Desperation on the ice is fine, but by the GM? Nah, ain't going to work.
Speaking of desperation on the ice, that's what the Hawks need. Every game. Just play now like it's the playoffs. Who cares if there's nothing left in the tank once you get there? This year, that's fine with me. Prove to yourselves and the league that you will be a team to be reckoned with in coming years.
It may happen anyway, but again, let's advance that process now. If we can.
If not, spring enjoyment will come from watching the Dead Wings blow it again. That's somethin'.
Email pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to "Inside the Hawks" with Jesse and special Hawk guests on WSCR 670-AM.